Sunday, October 26, 2008

Expectations, Projections, and Spark Plugs

I'll be glad when November 5th gets here and John Sydney McCain can return to 1/7th of his homes, call Sarah Palin a cunt or a trollope (as he is often want to do, apparently... Just ask Cindy McCain!), and bury his dreams of one day destroying America with a cigar, a vaguely unethical poker game at an Indian Casino, and a bottle of whiskey!

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let me update a few running topics:

1. I voted early for Obama, straight ticket Democrat for all state and national races, then for every judge and commissioner supported by the state teacher's union. It felt good to do my part to make the world a better place. I'm really hoping that North Carolina will turn blue on Election Night. It would feel good to know that over half of the state has evolved beyond race and bigotry. I was going to add stupidity, but that's probably hoping for WAY too much evolution at once.

2. I completed my first buy/sell cycle in my financial experiment. I am in the middle of the second cycle now. Within a week and a half I've managed to turn my $1000 initial investment into $1400. At this rate, if things go perfectly constant, I will have $100,000 by my birthday in May. Of course, nothing ever goes perfectly for me, but worst case scenario at this point seems be around $25,000 by May. I'd still be happy with that, seeing as how I've never made more than $22,000 in any given year by doing actual work.

3. Something is beyond wrong with me as far as school is concerned. I haven't written a single paper this semester, even though writing comes naturally to me. I just haven't felt like doing any work for some reason. It's interfering with my ability to post on this blog, to be quite frank! I feel guilty all the time because, obviously, my first priority SHOULD be to doing school work instead of posting, so after some deliberation I end up doing neither!

4. One of my friends from Algebra class, a guy named Chris, came over and replaced three of my four spark plugs and resurfaced my headlights so that they aren't foggy anymore. We could only get three of the plugs replaced because the fourth had apparently been cross threaded at the factory and couldn't be removed without risking damage to the threads in the cylinder where the plug was located. Also, we discovered oil pooling around two of the plugs which is either due to decayed gaskets or a crack in the engine. Best case scenario there is to replace the gaskets, which would still cost $500 because of the labor involved for a shop to remove the top of the engine. At any rate, I'm going to be waiting awhile before I do something about it.

As payment for the hard work, I took Chris out to lunch at a local Italian place near my apartment. We had a good time, and I felt as though I learned new things about him. In some ways, it seems, Chris and I are in similar situations except that Chris has a much more financially well-off family to fall back on if things go sour.

All in all, I suppose things are moving slowly forward. My car does seem to drive better with the new plugs installed; and it feels good to think that I might finally be investing in my financial future and that I may not have to feel trapped by economic woe for the rest of my life. I was surprised at how easy it seemed to actually change the spark plugs on my car. Ever since taking my HUM 220 class I've been getting more into vehicle maintenance and am continually surprised by how non-intimidating it all seems when you have the right people around to explain it to you. If I could ever get around to buying proper tools I wouldn't mind doing some of the basic maintenance on my own. It would certainly save money, that's for sure.

By the way, I've noticed a few people have been checking out the blog lately, so what do you guys think, so far? What's going on in your own lives which may parallel some of the things I've been mentioning up to now? Any thoughts on topics you might want me to discuss later? Feel free to leave comments below.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Take a Picture... It'll Last Longer

I thought I would do something different today and post pictures of my day. All these were taken with my iPhone 3G's miniscule 2MP camera with no zoom feature, though they turned out surprisingly well. I've had an interest in photography for about six or seven years now, but I'm not a professional by any means. Still, I seem to have a knack for image composition and finding unusual ways to make the ordinary seem less ordinary. Hope you like the shots:

I chose to early vote today at a One Stop Voting location here in Raleigh. It was at the Pullen Arts Center and for some reason I was in a very "look at the ground and the sky" sort of mood today. It was a little gray all day, so I really liked the flat uniform lighting that everything had. I like taking pictures on gray days because you don't have to worry about compensating for shadows or harsh reflections. This photo seems to need no explanation about what it is.

I was just walking along the sidewalk down to the Arts Center when I passed this drainage cover. I was a bit shocked to notice what seemed like the most ornate drainage cover I could ever remember seeing in a sidewalk. I'm sure people thought I was crazy, but I had to stand there and stare at it for at least a minute before I decided to take the picture. Why would someone go to so much trouble to sculpt a drainage cover? A better question might be why don't more people go to that much trouble to craft ordinary things in their own lives?

Like I said, it was a gray day. Though, just before sundown, I caught some blue glimpsing itself past the crowd of gray puffs and wisps, and dancing across the edges with just enough sunlight to make for what I thought was a beautiful composition. Unfortunately, a photograph can't fully do justice to the moment which felt like getting lost in the realism of a planetarium exhibit as I cast my gaze straight up into the heavens. I do wonder what people think of me as I stop and stare at things that most people just make cursory notice of before moving about their lives.

I'm not exactly sure what it was that caught my attention about this large handicapped parking space. Something about the natural lighting at sunset made the blue paint take on an almost electric quality, even though it was constantly interrupted by cracks and blotches of oil. I started to ponder whether or not the badly weathered state of the area caused the parking space itself to be handicapped irrespective of its legal designation. Plus, I liked the juxtaposition of the brilliant blue, a reminder of how new it once was, with the deep pits and cracks of age.

And, finally, I end my day at the Waffle House, as is often my way, saddled up to the counter, finishing my meal off with a glass of sweet iced tea and a chocolate chip waffle as the blog of the days events scratches itself into my small notebook from the tip of my ball point pen.

Have fun, and keep living life...but don't forget to stop and look at it from time to time!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Ex File: The Truth Is in Here, If You Can Handle It

Last Tuesday, when I was running around paying bills and taking care of my car, I think I saw her. It may not have been her, but it sure looked like her from a few yards away as I drove past at 25 MPH. She was walking along the sidewalk, next to NC State, wearing khaki pants, a baggy shirt, and a blue and black backpack. Her long brown hair was down. She's been on my mind ever since, which is to say she never really left my thoughts to begin with.

Of course I'm talking about the girl I wanted to marry. I hesitate to use her name in the off chance that she or someone she knows might one day read this blog, but I suppose I could just call her "Ex". There hasn't been a day since June 3, 2006 where I haven't prayed for her to be happy and healthy, and to make the best decisions for herself and those around her. However, I've also added my personal thanks for bringing Ex into my life, teaching me what love actually felt like even though I wasn't psychologically ready to handle it, and a request that, IF I can possibly make her happy in the future, we could find a way to come back together again.

I KNOW what you're thinking: "Ashe, she cheated on you for a month until you had pretty much figured it out for yourself!" You're right, of course. Though, after two years of retrospection, I think I've come to the conclusion that I probably deserved it, and definitely needed it. I needed to be jerked from my complacency. I needed a reason to re-evaluate my priorities, or for that matter make some. I needed to be shown just how badly my soul was rotting.

Ex was able to teach me lessons which others had tried, and failed, to teach me for decades. If you're a Gen Xer like me then you've seen Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy. In the movie, a young man allows his insecurities about his relatively sheltered experiences to consume him to the point where he alienates the love of his life and his lifelong friend. Silent Bob, Smith's wise-like-Yoda film alter ego, provides the story's moral: If someone loves you the way you are, don't eat yourself alive obsessing over the things which you are not. And, just like Holden McNeil and Silent Bob, it was a lesson I could only learn in Ex's absence.

It would be a lie to deny that I want Ex back for my own selfish reasons. But it would also be a lie not to acknowledge how much I want to give back to her, how much I want to take care of her in the ways she took care of me, and how I wish that I could make up for past mistakes and do for her all the other things she managed to do for me without really trying.

I don't know if it was Ex or not, but I hope it was. It gives me hope that her life may be moving in a new direction, as well. Perhaps our directions will converge again one day. But, until then, I'm going to keep learning.

Have fun, and keep living life... You never know when the circle might begin again.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

And a Pocketful of Gold

I finally received my financial aid money from school. The check was for about $3500, but I was in debt to the bank by $500 and had to buy new tires and get my car inspected. Plus, most of my bills were two months behind, so when the dust settled I only had about $1400 left. Fortunately, I'm also going to receive another $2500 soon since I had to update my FAFSA information after losing my job.

This brings me to an experiment that I have been waiting to conduct for about six months, I needed at least $1000 to properly begin the experiment, which may ultimately prove to be either the smartest thing I've ever done or, more likely, the dumbest. I took the $1000 and bought 3600 shares of stock in Citadel Broadcasting (CDL) at a cost of $.26 a share. Using the formula for exponential growth, y=Initial Value x Rate of Change^Time or Number of Calculations, and expeditious use of limit orders, the goal is to steadily buy and sell low cost stocks until the initial $1000 investment grows to at least $100,000, hopefully by the end of six months.

Citadel is either the third or the fifth largest broadcasting company in America, depending on who you ask and what they base their answer on, but its stock took a dive over the last three to five years along with the rest of the economy. I don't plan to wait for it to go back up to $5 a share, but I'll be happy for it to hit $.35 with a week or two. Naturally, though, the stock dropped over the two days immediately after my purchase to $.20/share. That's just par for the course for me!

I recently told someone that I needed this experiment to work or else I was going to have to find a job! You see, I've always been pretty work averse. I've long said I could never work two jobs because I'm barely willing to work one. That's why I worked at the radio station for ten years; It was BARELY one job! That's sort of how I perceive being a psychotherapist. I can get paid to stick my nose in other people's business. And since I've been doing that for 20 years for FREE it seems like a good calling, if I can just manage to make it through school, that is.

I've always dreamt of achieving the Communist Ideal in this Capitalist world, namely by having so much money that I can't spend it all, so that all my needs and wants are taken care of, and I can spend the rest of my life engaged in personal growth and spiritual fulfillment (learning, travelling, helping the poor and homeless).

Since I was a kid I've thought that my life was being wasted and that somehow I was capable of making the world a better place, if only I could get turned in the right direction or somehow gather enough money. I used to wonder, long before I'd ever heard of Communism, how much better humanity would be if none of us ever needed money again and we could all just work toward making the world a better place. For now, though, I look to the words of Robert Plant: "I live for my dreams... And a pocketful of gold."

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You Are an Obsession. You're My Obsession.

I've been on Fall Break since Thursday. I don't have to return to school until next Wednesday. Now, of course, I should have spent the last few days studying. Instead, I've found myself obsessing over various things. For several days I've had the song "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition stuck in my head. (I'll bet some of you didn't know Kenny Rogers performed psychedelic rock before becoming a Country Artist, did you?) And since the second Presidential Debate I've been focused on articles and poll results about the candidates. For the first time since 1976 there's a decent chance that North Carolina could turn blue, which has my nipples all erect! I've also been practicing my sword fighting techniques with a pool cue and planning out a custom lightsaber based on the dimensions and balance of said pool cue. I want it to be made of brushed aluminum without knobs or gadgets sticking out of it like you see on some of the sabers from the Star Wars movies. And whatever time has been left over the last several days has been filled with thoughts of what I would do with a few million dollars. By the way, I FINALLY got my financial aid money, and it came out to around $3500. Unfortunately, I'm probably only going to have around $1800 of it once I get my bills caught up and I get my car taken care of so it can be inspected for its yearly emissions test.

Anyway, I'm not the only one who has seemed obsessed over things lately. The economic crisis has people obsessed over their falling home values and collapsing stock portfolios; members of the world governments are obsessed about avoiding a global recession or, God help us, a global depression. Republicans are obsessed with their fear and hatred that a black democrat will likely become President of the United States. And Democrats are obsessed that their dream of winning the Presidency may once again be stripped away at the last moment by unscrupulous election shenanigans.

Pardon me for expressing a perhaps exaggerated sense of concern, but it feels like the US, if not the entire planet, is sitting on a powder keg right now. Everyone is stuck on a psychological carousel thinking about the same concerns, real or imagined, over and over without end. We're trapped in a broken groove of a scratched LP, listening to Huey Lewis and the News' song, "If This is It", but instead of the lyric, "If this is it, please let me know" all we keep hearing is "This is It. This is It. This is It." You could be forgiven for thinking the rumors about the Mayans were right and that the world is coming to an end in a few years.

I don't want to be mistaken for one of those Chicken Little "The sky is falling!" types. I'm really not, even though I've long dreamt of being alive at the end of the world just so I could see how it all ends... and maybe rub it in the faces of the evangelical Christians when it turns out Jesus isn't actually involved in the end of the world but instead it is brought about merely by the folly of mankind.

The thing is, obsession is rarely healthy. Unless you are obsessed with finding a cure for cancer it is probably best to be mindful of your thoughts and keep them moderated as much as you reasonably can. As someone who has struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder I can tell you first hand how destructive it is to your well-being and your personal relationships. One of the big things that ruined my relationship with the girl I planned to marry was my obsession with money. I often felt as though I had nothing to offer her because I couldn't afford to take her everywhere and buy her the things I wanted to buy for her. She had money and a decent paying job, but I could barely support myself financially. So rather than focus on things that I COULD do for her and give to her I obsessed over the things I COULDN'T do instead. It revealed my lack of self-esteem and crippled me emotionally. It's no wonder she chose to find a guy who wasn't hung up on his supposed shortcomings.

Being stuck on a few thoughts incessantly blinds you from the really important things in life, like family, friends, personal hobbies, and all the multitude of things that enrich human life. So next time you catch yourself thinking the same thoughts over and over, STOP, take a breath, let it out slowly and say, in the words of Phil Collins, "I Don't Care No More!"

Have fun, and keep living life... And get ready for a wild ride!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Power of Positive Speaking... Or Something Like That

Yesterday morning I woke up and, for some reason, started to realize why people in the past have referred to me as a "negative" person. People used to tell me all the time how depressing it was to be around me. Of course, back then I would blame them for not telling me this sooner so I could try to change my behavior around them. Hopefully, I'm little better than that now, but I still seem to have this tendency to say negative things. I'll say positive things, as well, but it seems they are typically prefaced by a negative comment. For example, in a discussion about favorite music I might respond to someones preference for country artist Travis Tritt with, "Oh, I don't like Travis Tritt! I've always liked Depeche Mode." And, sometimes I accidentally say things like this in a way that comes off as condescending or just belittling. People don't like this and eventually turn away from me. I probably would have kept a few more friends down through the years if instead of prefacing my comments with a negative, I just spoke the positive comment, "Oh, okay. I've always liked Depeche Mode."

While trying to do a little research for this post I came across a web page for the book The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, by Julie Norem, Ph.D. On the web page for the book there is a description of what the author refers to as "defensive pessimism". According to Dr. Norem, defensive pessimism is sort of a learned coping mechanism where people will think of all the negative things which could possibly happen so that, if the bottom falls out of their plans, they don't get overly anxious about the outcome. According to the little quiz on the website, I qualify as a defensive pessimist, however I'd have to say that for every situation that it helps me cope with, there is another situation where it ends up getting in my way.

For negativity to be more effective than ineffective you have to pick and choose when to use it. It can't be a broad spectrum tactic because, as I eluded to earlier, negativity pushes people away. People don't want to hang around someone who essentially belittles their favorite things. People don't want to be around someone who can't immediately identify where they want to go hang out without giving an extensive list of where they don't want to hang out. And they don't want to have a romantic relationship with someone who is always expecting the worst, and broadcasting those expectations, out of every situation.

This loosely relates to why Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination in early summer. I'm not saying she was inherently negative... that's for more experienced political analysts to judge. However, negative people tend to be very self-centered people. After all, their worries are not about "you" they are about "me". They don't have time to care about what will happen to you, they only have concern for what will happen to themselves. Some will disagree with this assessment, I'm sure, but I've always believed that Hillary Clinton lost because she preferred the words "I" and "Me" where Barack Obama preferred the use of "You" and "We". Her speeches were always filled with "I've done this, I've worked for that, Vote for Me and I'll do this for You." In this context, You is a positive, because people like to hear about themselves, and I or Me are negatives because the speaker is spending more time talking about themselves. So, as Obama once said in a debate, Hillary Clinton was "likable enough", but just not.

So, if you're looking for ways to attract or maintain more friendships and relationships it may serve you well to watch your language. Who knows, it might even make you President one day.

Have fun, and keep living life... or some approximation thereof!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My Weekly Roundup, or With New Enemies Comes a New Hope

Okay, I totally didn't mean to abandon the blog for a week! Once again, it seems life got in the way. I'll try to give a review of sorts to the week's events along with some thoughts on the big debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin.

I meant to post something on Sunday, but, well, I was feeling decidedly anti-social. Actually, that may explain why I didn't post anything this week perfectly. I've been fairly depressed lately because of my money situation. That is to say, I have no money situation, because I have no money with which to have a situation at all! I don't think I ever mentioned that I lost my job about a month before school started this semester. I had been working for Clear Channel in Raleigh for TEN YEARS when I was fired (Clear Channel owns a large percentage of the radio and TV broadcasters around the US and a growing number in Europe). To be honest, I should have left the job around 5 years ago, because it wasn't challenging, fun, or at all redeeming in any way. I was working overnights, by myself, and the schedule helped to isolate me from people. I only continued to work there for a paycheck and insurance, because medications can be pretty expensive. By the way, if you have a Costco nearby, get your prescriptions filled there. They are SUPER CHEAP! Instead of paying $275 a month for drugs (now that I have no insurance), Costco only charges me $90 a month!

So, anyway, I've been desperately waiting, longing, dreaming for my financial aid money to get sent to me. I was expecting it to arrive the last week in September, but due to a holdup in paperwork (Okay, I forgot to fax an enlarged copy of my driver's license to the bank for my records) the loan money didn't get disbursed in time for the first checks to be sent out. Now, I'm hoping that the money will be sent out on October 10th, because I've been living off of fish sticks and Lean Pockets for a week. That's a step up from the Oodles of Noodles and beef stew diet from the previous week.

Monday: I didn't get around to posting because I intended to work on a paper that I needed to turn in Thursday. I didn't do it, choosing instead to spend my free time surfing the Internet. Then, I had to volunteer at dance classes, so by the time I got home I had time to download Countdown with Keith Olbermann to my iPhone, watch it, and go to sleep.

Tuesday: I got my World Civilizations test back. I should know by now that if I ever think a test was easy, I failed! Well, I thought the first test was easy... However I barely made a D on it. By the professor's own admission there were only a total of 8 A's and B's in the whole class. There were a few Cs, but there were 8 D's and 8 F's. He had the nerve to call that a "perfect bell curve"! Bell curve my ass! That's a drop off into an ABYSS! What an ass! It should be illegal to be that psychotic in class and THEN be a hard ass on your tests! Forty points of the test was devoted to essay questions, and he wanted lots of specifics. One of the guys who managed to make a B said he wrote essays that were two pages each!

Later in the evening, I had to conduct a training class for potential volunteers to the dance academy. It went well and I had an okay time during the session, but it lasted 2 hours. At least I got fed pizza and cookies for a change.

Wednesday: I don't really have an excuse for why I didn't post on Wednesday. Again, I convinced myself I was going to work on that paper that was due Thursday. I didn't... Again! It wasn't that big of a deal. I just had to put into words (two pages of words, double spaced, to be exact) an outline that I had already written up in class describing my ideas for how best to judge a written paper. It's for my Humanities 220 class. Now, maybe you know why I like the class! It's easy, breezy, beautiful, Covergirl.

In the morning, I had a test in my College Algebra class. The best I could have gotten was an 80 because I had to skip 3 questions since I had no idea how to do them on my calculator -- change that, my NEMESIS, the TI-84 PLUS graphing calculator! And then, because it took me so long to do the rest of the problems by hand I had to skip one of the last two questions on the test. I was hoping for a C, but I was worried about getting a D.

Thursday: Okay, Thursday was unique. Thursdays are already my long day. I have class from 1230 PM until 5 PM. World Civ was dull and boring as we had to sit through a lecture on Africa. And since there aren't many written records about the various tribes throughout the history of Africa, the professor could only show us a slideshow of famine, disease, cattle, and give explanations of what the African indigenous people had to go through in order to survive. All that stuff is interesting, but it was nothing that I haven't seen or read a hundred times before! After that class was over I went to my HUM 220 class where there was some discussion about the final chapters of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Then, we headed to the Automotive Department to see the progress on the motorcycle. The head of the Automotive Dept. went through a meticulous explanation of the things he had done to the bike over the last week and how it seems to run. However, there are still obstacles in the way of getting it drivable, such as the carburetor, which is probably filled with rust or dirt, and the gas tank which needs to be completely cleaned out.

After school, I came home and just relaxed for a little while until the Vice Presidential Debate between Biden and Palin started. I was able to watch it on Once again, despite my predilection toward the Obama/Biden ticket, I have to say I was surprised to see Palin actually able to string solid sentences together after her embarrassingly laughable performances recently with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. However, I was annoyed with how she upfront told everyone that she wasn't going to answer questions the way Moderator Gwen Ifill, or Palin's opponent Joe Biden, wanted her to, but rather the way SHE wanted to answer them. At least she was honest about that if nothing else. Never did she seem to answer a question with an answer appropriate to the question. She seemed almost like she was reading from a teleprompter, her responses so prepared and perfect. She spurted out McCain Campaign talking points as though she had been indoctrinated as a child, Aldous Huxley-style, with the campaign agenda playing over and over in the background as she slept. I half expected her to accidentally blurt out, "Gammas wear such ugly uniforms. I don't like the color brown!"

Friday: And, finally, Friday. I really shouldn't have woken up, dressed, and wasted gas going to school. My Abnormal Psychology class was cancelled due to a family emergency for the professor, so that left me with just my College Algebra class. Unfortunately, I've missed all the classes I can and I have to attend everyday until the end of the semester, no matter what! I did get back my test, and I found that I was able to make a 74.5, a C. I was happy about that, even though I COULD have made a B had I been able to operate my Nemesis! The professor also gave us our cumulative scores so far, and I am only making a 59, an F! I've missed a few quizzes and I didn't turn in the first Excel Lab. There is still time to bring the grade up, but I'd do alot better to bring it up if I didn't have to struggle with that damn calculator! Of course, once again, my Nemesis had to ruin my morning. We did a rather simple lab on exponential growth and decay. It involved M&Ms and adding or removing them based on how many Ms were showing. I was able to gather the necessary data, but as usual had NO IDEA how to calculate this on the TI-84 PLUS (I'm guessing the PLUS means "PLUS the desire to rip your hair out by being dangled over a pool of hungry crocodiles after eating a warm bowl of camel crap and drinking it down with a tall glass of cow urine!") A few of my classmates attempted to help me, but it basically came down to them having to do the calculations for me, which just made me angrier. I'm a genius, I SHOULD be able to figure this out myself! So, before turning the lab in to the professor, I just balled up my paper, put away my stuff and left the class.

After cashing a check for my rent from my grandmother and getting something to eat at Waffle House, I paid my rent, which is still a month behind because I'm waiting on my financial aid, got to my apartment, stripped down to my boxers, and went back to bed!

So, did this week at least teach me anything? Did I learn some nugget that I can pass along to you guys as at least a small lesson of life? Well, I found out that it feels really good to vent. Oh, and after I stormed out of class Friday, I got an email from one of my classmates because all of us on the front row are supposed to turn in a group project on Monday that I'm supposed to be writing. They were naturally worried that I was dropping the class and wasn't going to come back. I told her that I had every intention of returning to class. Even if I flunk the class I'm still going to take my punches like a man. I explained that I'll write the paper, which is going to be super short when you factor in the charts and graphs of our data, and email it to them by Sunday morning. She emailed back and told me, "OK we just got worried! Don't get so flustered over a calculator... you'll get it if you keep trying and stay positive! We're always here to help you too!"

DING! DING! DING! No matter how you think things SHOULD be, don't let pride or ego stop you from asking for help. Even if you think you'd be a burden to others, ultimately people don't want to see people around them fail. Schadenfreude is only for people you don't have a direct connection with. And, as cheesy as this is, maybe asking for help doesn't have to be a sign of weakness. Perhaps we don't have to live as islands unto ourselves. We can be vulnerable without being endangered. Just because you're weak in one area doesn't make you weak in all areas. Enjoy your strengths and accept your weaknesses, and make asking for help one of your most important strengths. Things just might turn out alright in the end.

Have fun, and keep living life...
hopefully it's better than my current approximation thereof!
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